CHICAGO — Brady Hoke’s Michigan coaching debut produced an 11-2 record and a No. 9 coaches’ poll ranking, yet he found disappointment at season’s end.
Michigan once again returned to relevance, enjoying a Sugar Bowl berth and a victory against arch-rival Ohio State. But the Wolverines lost their fourth straight game to cross-state foe Michigan State and did not win the Big Ten championship. That in particular stuck with Hoke when he regarded his inaugural season as unsuccessful.
“We had a disappointing year a year ago when you do not win the Big Ten championship,” Hoke said. “And at Michigan, we’ve not won that championship since 2004.”
There’s one person who can help ease Hoke’s melancholy, and that’s Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Few dispute that Robinson, now a senior, is college football’s most electrifying player. Robinson has rushed for 3,229 yards and passed for 4,931 yards in his three years as Michigan’s quarterback. He’s also a winner, guiding Michigan last season to its most victories since 2006.
Robinson has chewed up the record book, rushing for 1,702 yards last year to set a single-season record by a quarterback. In 2010 he became the only quarterback to ever throw for at least 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in a single season.
Robinson’s opponents’ superlatives flow like his dreadlocks at top speed when discussing his attributes.
“Lightning fast, man. That man is very athletic,” Wisconsin running back Montee Ball said. “He’s willing to just take the game in his hands and make a lot of great plays. You can really see that when you watch him play.”
“He can run the ball on you, and he’s a great passer as well,” Ohio State defensive end John Simon said. “To game plan for that, you can’t really key in on the run or key in on the pass when they’re able to hurt you on both sides.”
A usual assortment of dynamic plays will have Robinson in contention for the Heisman Trophy this year. But it’s the mistakes he made in losses to Michigan State and Iowa last year have that have him focused on achieving team — rather than individual — goals.
Robinson completed just 9-of-24 passes and rushed for only 42 yards on 18 carries in a loss to Michigan State. He scored early on a 15-yard run but negated a 34-yard touchdown strike by tossing a pick-six to Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis.
Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said defensive discipline, gap control and physical play kept Robinson is check.
“It’s like a running back at quarterback that can do whatever they really want at any situation,” Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said. “We’re all disciplined to be where we’re supposed to be and there’s nowhere to go. I think that’s why we’ve been able to have the success we’ve had against Denard the last couple of years because we play team defense. Things are going to break down; that’s how it happens. You make up for those mistakes with hustle.”
Iowa contained Robinson and kept him to 55 yards rushing. Robinson lost a fumble in Iowa territory and threw an interception in the end zone. He completed just 17-of-37 passes and misfired on four straight passes from the Iowa 3 to end the game in a 24-16 loss.
“There’s a lot of passes I wish I hadn’t have thrown, a lot of passes that I wish I would have gotten underneath my feet and made sure my feet are underneath myself,” Robinson said. “Those are things that I wish could have taken back. But what I took from those games that we lost … we didn’t come out and play Michigan football.”
Hoke touted Robinson’s work ethic and ability to pick up new offensive concepts in the offseason. Robinson has worked on his footwork and delivery as a passer. Many of the passes he focused on include post and other deeper routes along with his timing passes. Some observers might question the rationale for Robinson, who likely will switch to wide receiver once he leaves the university. But at Michigan, there’s no doubt which position Robinson plays.
“When I step on the field, I’m going to try to be the best quarterback I can be for the University of Michigan,” Robinson said. “What happens after that? I have no control over. What I have control over today is to be the best quarterback I can possibly be for the University of Michigan. So when I step on the field, I’m going to train to be the best quarterback for the University of Michigan.”
Michigan football now has a simple, yet difficult, goal: win. Hoke made that point clear repeatedly last year. For Michigan to achieve that goal, Robinson must excel at quarterback every week. That starts in the season opener against defending national champion Alabama, continues mid-season against in-state foe Michigan State and concludes against Ohio State.
Some players can’t handle that type of pressure. Robinson, however, embraces it.
“When you step on the field, you want to win every game,” Robinson said. “It’s not that we want to beat this guy even more; we want to beat every team. If you’re going 100 percent, you can’t intensify it to 110. You can only give 100 percent.”
Comments are closed.